Environmental and Resource Studies
- 2012 Symons Award for Excellence in Teaching
Trent University is pleased to announce that Dr. Tom Hutchinson, a professor emeritus in Trent’s Environmental and Resource Science/Studies program, will be presented with the Symons Award for Excellence in Teaching at the 2012 spring convocation ceremonies.
Established in 1976, the Symons Award for Excellence in Teaching is made available through the generous support of Trent’s founding president, Professor Tom Symons and his wife, Christine. The award is presented annually to a faculty or staff member who displays exemplary teaching and concern for students. This is the 35th year that the Symons Award for Excellence in Teaching has been conferred.
“The Symons Award not only recognizes outstanding teaching at this University, but also, and especially, exemplary concern for students,” explained Dr. Steven E. Franklin, Trent’s president and vice-chancellor. “In Dr. Hutchinson’s case, it is evident from the testimonials that he embraces his professorship with genuine interest in the success of his students and sheer enthusiasm for the subjects that he teaches.”
Dr. Hutchinson joined the ERS program in January 1991, coming from the University of Toronto where he was a Professor in the Botany department from 1967–1990. Dr. Hutchinson was awarded, upon his retirement from Trent, the title of Professor Emeritus at the 2005 convocation ceremonies.
Since his retirement in 2005, Dr. Hutchinson has continued to teach three courses for the ERS Program and supervise honours reading courses, honours projects, and graduate theses. He teaches third-year Ecological Agriculture and third-year Agricultural Alternatives, both of which are part of Trent’s undergraduate Emphasis in Food and Agriculture, and he co-teaches third-year Pollution Ecology.
Dr. Hutchinson’s research interests include the impacts of pollutants, such as acid rain, sulphur dioxide, heavy metals and ozone on natural and agricultural ecosystems and the restoration of seriously contaminated abandoned mine sites at Sudbury and in the Yukon, which has helped his involvement in the Trent-Fleming Ecological Restoration degree program. Dr. Hutchinson has also worked extensively in the arctic and boreal forest areas and in southern Ontario, and for many years on the response of natural ecosystems to oil spills in the Arctic.
Dr. Hutchinson’s agricultural interests include concerns about the loss of genetic resources in livestock. For a number of years, he ran the national office for the main Canadian livestock conservation group Rare Breeds Canada at Trent. Dr. Hutchinson is also interested in the history of agricultural changes over the past 150 years in the Peterborough area and in present efforts of sustainable farming systems. He has a farm near Indian River and operates it for livestock conservation purposes and for student focus. Dr. Hutchinson raises sheep, chickens and turkeys, almost all heritage breeds.
Last year, Dr. Hutchinson supervised four honours projects, three in studies related to Sudbury area ecosystem recovery from air pollution impacts and one on community food opportunities in Peterborough. His last two graduate students defended just before Christmas: Allison Hayward (Ph.D.) examined the mechanism of multiple heavy metal tolerance in Sudbury area grass species, which has evolved following the closure of the Coniston smelter in 1972, and Paul Grieves (M.A.), who is in Trent’s new Sustainability Masters program, examined food versus energy potential from farm land in Peterborough County.
“In receiving the Symons Award for Excellence in Teaching, Dr. Hutchinson is recognized for the unique educational opportunities he has provided in the study, observation and practice of sustainable agriculture. Dr. Hutchinson is also recognized for the exemplary concern he exhibits in many ways, including his enthusiasm about his students, about their work and their research, and through his generosity of granting students access to his farm property to complete their research and experiments,” explained Dr. Jocelyn Aubrey, when she announced the award at the March 6, 2012 meeting of Senate.
“The use of farm land for biogas production is one area I have researched at Trent, with graduate and undergraduate students,” explained Dr. Hutchinson. “This research included looking at the potential for alternative crops. Many students have gone on to have their own farms or commercial operations. It is my hope that students will understand how to grow their own food in a sustainable way and to be self sufficient.”
Students’ exposure to Dr. Hutchinson’s experimental agriculture is not limited to his farm property: nearly fifteen years ago, Dr. Hutchinson introduced the idea of growing vegetables on the flat roof of the Environmental Studies Centre and this rooftop garden has led to supplying organic food grown on campus to the student-run Seasoned Spoon cafe and to an increased interest in roof gardening amongst our undergraduates. These innovative ideas, among others, find their way into Dr. Hutchinson’s classes.
In reference to his effective pedagogical approach, one nominator commented: “He creates these extraordinary farm adventures of contrast and interest, draws out the host farmer, prompts his students, helps them observe differently, to find the link to their course work and farm plan projects. His is no abstract text-book based approach to agriculture.”
In speaking to his use of field trips, Dr. Hutchinson explained: “One invaluable aspect of my agricultural classes is that we take the students out to many farms in the Peterborough area, where they meet the farmers and their families and get the chance to see what goes on and to ask lots of questions. The farmers have been marvellous in taking time out to meet the classes, often being invaded with 30 or more students at a time. We visit all kinds of farms, and agri-businesses, with many different approaches, philosophies and products.”
Another nominator draws out the broader impact of Dr. Hutchinson’s teaching: “His students are the ones who will think critically, deal with complexity, solve problems, think across disciplines, communicate effectively with multiple stakeholders, engage in future oriented thinking, use systems thinking and ethical decision making, work effectively in teams and diverse environments and engage with the community. They will also be the risk takers: the ones who will challenge the status quo, who will think differently.”
“It is clear that Dr. Hutchinson has made a remarkable impact upon his students,” explained Dr. David Poole, the chair of the Teaching Awards Sub-committee, “an accomplishment for which he should be justifiably proud.”
In learning about this award recognition, Professor Hutchinson commented: “I love teaching, I always have and I love doing research and farming. Agriculture fascinates me, as does the environment. It is a great pleasure to find students so interested too. I hope through my teaching to inspire them to want to learn much more and to seek answers to current questions and in particular, to put their knowledge to practical purposes. This all comes down to encouraging them to try to make their and our world a better place. It really needs lots of help. This may not be an original thought but it is true!”